A recent New York Times article penned by U.S. Army Captain Justin Rose shares his first-person account of having been the victim of sexual assault during his time as a U.S. Marine.
The incident occurred in 2006 while deployed to the Horn of Africa. The perpetrator was a fellow Marine, someone Rose considered a friend.
At the time, Rose told his superiors what had happened, and months later he testified at a court martial along with three other Marines who had reported similar inappropriate sexual misconduct.
But the result of that legal proceeding was for Rose and his fellow Marines to be labeled “liars” and “co-conspirators” who were trying to ruin a man’s reputation.
They were told their stories were not believable, and that the accused was a Midwesterner with a religious background. The military judge refused to buy the four men’s allegations.
What stands out most in Rose’s personal essay was the shame that he felt. He was a Marine - how could he have “let” this happen?
From The New York Times:
Long after the attack itself is over, you’re left dealing with all the toxic doubts and self-blame that come with being sexually assaulted.
I fought with the idea that I somehow invited this upon myself, that I deserved it or was somehow to blame for the assault. It stripped away my confidence and degraded the trust I had in my fellow Marines.
I questioned the values that I first bought into when I became a Marine: the belief in honor, courage and commitment that was instilled by our drill instructors. I didn’t immediately confront my attacker face to face — so where was my courage or honor? How would I react to real combat?
Where was the commitment from my fellow Marines, when I needed support in the aftermath of the attack? Would they be there for me if I needed their help on the battlefield one day?
Before, during and after the military trial, Rose became the subject of constant taunting by his fellow Marines as his noncommissioned officers had shared the allegations.
Rose eventually resigned from the Marines (“I could no longer wear the uniform of the man who assaulted me”) and accepted a commission in the Army Reserve.
In the years since the incident, Rose - like many men who experience male-on-male sexual assault - found the scars of shame and self-doubt to be the most impactful.
Folks’ refusal to believe that a man could sexually assault another man, plus the mockery by his own officers became the most enduring effects of the ordeal.
Even though Rose doesn’t identify as gay in his essay, LGBT people experience the same effects of shame, doubt and more when sexually assaulted.
According to the Center’s for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:
• 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men say they have experienced rape, physical violent or more by an intimate partner
• 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women say they have experienced rape, physical violent or more by an intimate partner
Many LGBTs who experience rape (especially in a dating situation) find it difficult to tell even close friends about the event for fear of not being believed.
I was the target (I refuse to use the word ‘victim’) of date rape myself back in the early 1990s in New York City. I know exactly how this can happen.
I won’t go into all the details, but I will say what happened was with someone I knew, during the course of a third date.
The person in question invited me to dinner out of Staten Island where he lived.
After dinner we went back to his place and things took an sexual direction, as happens between consenting adults. The attraction was mutual, but soon the guy took a turn and became very aggressive.
Even though I was a strapping, young-30-something who worked out six days a week, he was not only bigger than I, but didn’t pause to use pain to restrain me. Extreme pain.
In the moment, after much struggling and using the word "stop" many times, the only thoughts running through my shocked mind were to survive the moment.
The incident went on for about an hour and a half, with him keeping me, and my genitals, in a painful vise grip. Eventually, he fell asleep.
I know most folks would say, “You should have jumped up and left.”
But, by then it was then the middle of the night. I was frightened/stunned out of my mind.
I didn’t know where I was or how to get home to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, AND I was afraid to wake him for fear it would all begin again.
I lay awake the rest of the night keeping an eye on my assailant.
When morning came, he acted as if nothing had happened. It seemed it was all some bondage fantasy that he had indulged in without exploring the issue with me.
When he sensed my tension, he ‘apologized’ saying he didn’t realize I wasn’t ‘into it.’
I found a bus to take me to the Staten Island Ferry and back to Manhattan.
I didn’t have any physical scars but I didn’t share the incident with anyone. Not even my best friends.
When the words would begin to come, all I could feel was the doubt that I hadn’t defended myself enough. That it could have been my own fault.
I know it wasn’t.
A few years later, after I’d met my husband, we encountered the guy in NYC’s West Village in passing. He said ‘hi’ as if nothing had ever happened. But for me, it all came back.
I’m compelled to write this now because Captain Rose’s story reminded me how long that single incident affected me.
I really want folks to know that same-sex, male-on-male assault does, indeed, happen. And no, it’s not your fault.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I urge you to seek counseling - even if you don’t think you need it. Sometimes, just expressing your thoughts to someone else gets the poison out of you and helps to alleviate some of the sense of shame.
A postscript to Captain Rose’s tale: ten years after his assault, he was contacted by a detective who was putting together a case against his Marine assailant. It turns out the man had gone on to a history of sexual assault and violence.
Rose traveled to Kansas where he once again took the stand to testify against the man.
This time, he was believed and his assailant was convicted, receiving a 49-year prison sentence.
I encourage you to read the full essay at The New York Times here.
And if you or someone you know become the target of sexual assault, one resource to help you is the National Sexual Assault Hotline which can be reached at 1-800-656-4673 24/7 or online at https://ohl.rainn.org/hotline.
You can also find more resources at the Human Rights Campaign Sexual Assault webpage.
Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow Contributors.